Living Hope Church short $1M fundraising goal as deadline nears

Another local congregation likely to stay at current site

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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Faith, according to the Rev. John Bishop, is what you have when you believe in something but cannot see it.

Faith is what Bishop is relying upon as his church heads toward a final Oct. 20 deadline to raise $5 million.

Living Hope Church is struggling to raise sufficient funds to buy the former Kmart building at 2711 N.E. Andresen Road. That’s 85,000 square feet of space on 10 acres of land. The price is $5 million, and Bishop said he’s already begged landowner Kuni Enterprises for extension after extension to raise enough money. He’s not counting on any more extensions, he said.

Vancouver-based Kuni, which operates auto dealerships throughout the region, was going to open a car dealership there but dropped that plan and started leasing the space to Living Hope early this year.

Now, Bishop said he’s facing down a final deadline with a million bucks still to go. He’s raised approximately $4 million, he said, and that’s cash in the bank, not pledges. He’s begun an all-out campaign to raise that money via Internet alerts and Twitter updates, calls for help through Christian media and to churches far and wide, meetings with potential donors — and one final push for his congregation to dig deep once again.

“If I was in a church where I’d been asked for money for nine months straight, I don’t know how I’d feel about that,” he said.

Bishop said he’s painfully aware congregants have been asked plenty already. His face breaks into a big smile as he notes some of the recent donations Living Hope has received despite donor fatigue: one guy donated a motorcycle, another a fixer-upper duplex in Camas. Somebody brought in $10,000 in gold coins. And three kids who’d been saving money for an amusement park vacation decided to fork over their $700 to the building fund instead.

But it’s either that or wait for a miracle, Bishop said. “No one’s going to roll in with a million bucks,” he said.

Bishop added that approximately 80 of his wealthier congregants have invested in a new real estate company called Living Hope Promised Land. Working with a Seattle finance company called Affinity Financing, Living Hope Promised Land will hold the mortgage on the property and the church will make quarterly mortgage payments. Investors will realize a 5 percent return, Bishop said.

But Bishop noted that his church’s move from the Clark County suburbs to central Vancouver has meant a shift in demographics and resources. Living Hope has closed and posted for sale all of its eight scattered properties — including its flagship church and campus at 10702 N.E. 117th Ave., as well as a smaller church in Orchards.

“Every anchor we’ve got has been cut,” Bishop said. But those properties have been languishing on the market for months, he added.

Meanwhile, Bishop and his flock took that leap of faith by moving into the Kmart property. They lost some folks who didn’t want to make the trip or who didn’t like the new scene, which is definitely more downscale. Part of the rationale behind moving into central Vancouver, Bishop has said, is providing services to needy people. There’s already a vibrant food exchange, he said, as parishioners with plenty bring their extras to share with those who are hungry.

“God has moved our church where it needs to be,” said Missy Hannon, another Living Hope pastor and the church’s business director. Bishop said there’s been a net gain in church membership overall, with as many as 8,000 now coming to services monthly.

Bishop said he truly does not have a backup plan for Living Hope Church if it doesn’t raise the $5 million it needs to buy the building.

“I really don’t have a Plan B,” he said. “I have faith. It could be that I’m standing on that stage saying `We’re done. Here’s a list of other churches in the area. It’s been a fun 15 years.’”

North Creek Church

Another local church seems to have shifted its own drive to buy a different former car dealership into neutral, after announcing some ambitious plans earlier this year.

In April, North Creek Church pastors Mark and Stacy Newell announced that they wanted to move their church from a former restaurant and bar at 10311 N.E. Highway 99 to a former auto dealership at 1015 N.E. 78th Street — near a prominent Hazel Dell corner. They needed to raise $2.5 million to make that happen.

The Newells had no clue where that money might come from, they said at the time. “We’re on a faith journey,” Mark said.

This week, Mark Newell said the North Creek Church — nicknamed the Coffee Church — has gotten busy renovating its current Hazel Dell home so more coffee can flow to more folks. It doesn’t sound like a move to a different site is in the offing.

“We are currently in the process of ripping out the bar to accommodate more chairs, renovating the parking lot to accommodate the growth, eventually moving our kid’s ministries into the other building on the property and hopefully connecting the two buildings to create a usable foyer space, all of this with the intention of purchasing the property,” Mark Newell wrote in an e-mail.

All of that would give the North Creek Church only 1,000 square feet less space than the auto dealership — at about half the price.

He said the announcement about the drive to buy the future building resulted in sufficient donations to renovate the current one.

“Although, if God chooses to have us down at the car dealership, we’ll go there still, too,” Newell concluded.

North Creek Church’s five-year anniversary celebration is Sept. 25, with services at 9:30 and 11:00 am.